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Striking Difference : Galaxy's Hurtado Blames His Lack of Productivity on Restrictive Style, but Osiander Says It's All in His Head


What ails "The Tank"?

Why is Eduardo Hurtado playing like a man sleepwalking?

How can the Galaxy striker who last season finished third among Major League Soccer scorers with 21 goals have netted only one--as in uno--so far this season?

"It's all between the ears," says Galaxy Coach Lothar Osiander, suggesting that the player known as "El Tanque" in his native Ecuador has problems that are mental, not physical.

Not so, says Hurtado, taking no offense.

And that might be the problem.

Osiander has tried everything he knows in an effort to spark Hurtado into life. All to no avail.

He has yelled at him.

No response.

He has benched him.

No response.

Now, he is trying the insult approach. Hence the "between the ears" remark.

But instead of being angry, instead of throwing chairs around the Rose Bowl locker room, instead of cursing Osiander or his luck, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hurtado sits placidly on a training room table, calmly answering questions.

He doesn't even raise his voice.

"The coach thought it was a good idea for me to take a break," he says through an interpreter of his benching.

How does he feel about the "between the ears" comment?

"It's the coach's decision whether to put me in or not."

Is he angry at being sidelined?

"Of course. Anyone who does not get to play and has to sit on the bench is going to feel some anger. But as a player I know that sometimes that happens."

Is it poor service from his teammates that has caused his scoring slump? Is he not getting the ball at the right time or in the right position?

Finally, a response.

"It is a question of style," he agrees. "Last year, I was allowed to play a lot more freely. This year, they want me to play a certain style that is affecting the way I play."


"Last year I was allowed to roam the field, to play on the left or the right or in the center. This year, they are asking me to stay in the center [of the offense], almost like a reference point for the four [opposing] defenders.

"It's not working."

Not according to the statistics, it isn't.

Last season, Hurtado played in 26 regular-season games, took 88 shots, 59 of them on target, and scored 21 goals. He also assisted on seven others. In six playoff games, he scored three goals.

This season, Hurtado has played in six games for Galaxy (2-7). He has taken 13 shots, only six of them on target, and scored the one goal. In his last game, against the Wizards in Kansas City on May 10, all four of his shots sailed high or wide of the target. He has now been held scoreless for 220 consecutive minutes.

So, has his freedom to roam been curtailed, causing the decline in scoring?

"No," Osiander said. "I just asked him to be more mobile. He hasn't been particularly mobile. We'll work it out, but he has to show in training that he really wants to play."

There were several trade rumors involving Hurtado in the preseason, but he says he wants to stay in Los Angeles.

"I've been very comfortable playing for the Galaxy. They've been very supportive of me and so have the fans. That's why I wouldn't want to go to any other MLS team."

But that does not rule out a trade if his game does not pick up.

One of the teams that has expressed considerable interest is the New England Revolution.

"He [Brian O'Donovan, the Revolution's general manager] knows we want Hurtado," New England Coach Thomas Rongen told the Boston Herald on Wednesday. "Make the deal work is what we've told him."

The Revolution player who would be most attractive to the Galaxy is U.S. national team forward Joe-Max Moore of Irvine. But Rongen said he would not part with the former UCLA standout.

"Joe-Max is not a consideration," he told the Herald. "He is not in the picture as far as trades are concerned."

O'Donovan did not sound quite as certain.

"When your offense is punchless almost one-third of the way into the season, then there is nobody on the team that you can say is absolutely safe," he said.

According to club officials, the Galaxy could have sold "El Tanque" to a club in Italy last season for $2 million but declined.

It is doubtful the same offer would be made today. But unless Hurtado starts scoring again, an offer of even a quarter of that amount might be tempting.

"There have been some teams that have expressed interest," said Danny Villanueva, the Galaxy's president and general manager. "There are some people who feel Hurtado might benefit from a change of scenery."

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